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Flood plan might open opportunities in Bridgeport’s South End

January 12, 2019

In a new plan to address flooding in the South End of Bridgeport, city officials see an opportunity to kick-start private investment and development in the waterfront area.

“I think there are many things that our project is directly addressing but also I think we’ve been able to bring together a lot of different stakeholders and spark conversations within the neighborhood that are leading to other projects as well,” said Rebecca French, Director of National Disaster Resilience and Rebuild by Design for the Connecticut Department of Housing and project manager for Resilient Bridgeport

After several years of drafting, the state Department of Housing released a draft of its plans for the addressing the ongoing flood risks in the South End. The proposal is part of an environmental impact evaluation funded by a pair of national resiliency grants under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery following Hurricane Sandy.

Barrier to development

Flood regulations have been a barrier to development in South End for years, particularly with project requiring public assistance.

“It’s an impediment that has been there for some time, but one that, I think with Hurricane Sandy, really impacted the market in a way that we hadn’t seen,” said David Kooris, deputy commissioner with the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

Along with being the former director of the Office of Planning and Economic Development for the city of Bridgeport, Kooris served as point person for the Resilient Bridgeport prior to French assuming the role.

Most land in the South End is said by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to have a 1 percent chance each year of a serious flood, which guides state statutes. Connecticut agencies have ruled that projects in a flood zone that fail to provide means of evacuation will be blocked from receiving state funding — including for the cleanup of contaminants.

For projects like the Remington Shaver site at 60 Main Street, which has long been slated for redevelopment into waterfront apartments, such regulations have stalled its transformation since 2016.

“The south end has been essentially cut off from investment for the last several years which in many ways was the impetus for our seeking this funding when I was with the city,” Kooris said.

Years in the making

Bridgeport received more than $50 million in federal grants in the last four years to funding the flood protection project in the South End.

Most of that time has been devoted to community meetings and outreach focused on how to address ongoing climate change that has made the South End, among other coastal neighborhoods, and increased flood risk.

“We wanted to have something that really reflected their input already,” French said. “We didn’t want to wait to this point to get input on the project; this also provides an addition formal opportunity for the community to put further input into the project.”

The plan calls for a coastal flood defense system near the University of Bridgeport that would provide a protection from coastal storm surges, and green infrastructure improvements like pump stations.

UB is reportedly moving its athletic facilities to a more vulnerable area closer to the water now occupied by the Health Sciences building, which will move to a safer place where the athletic area is now.

The project also plan calls for a storm water park adjacent to the former Marina Village site, which is supposed to be redeveloped into the new Windward apartments and health center. The park would bring another green space and pumping station to filter the excess rainfall.

Closer to the shoreline, French said, University Avenue would be elevated and turned into a needed flood evacuation route.

Reclassified

Changes to the neighborhood would essentially, reclassify the South End with FEMA, making it a lower risk area, and easing the path to public-private developments.

“We would basically get a new map, and that map would then have the area behind the flood wall,” French said.

With the changes to the neighborhood, she added, there would no longer be conditions on permitting for developing in the area.

Private investors and homeowners, French said, stand to benefit from lower flood insurance premiums.

Barring any setbacks, officials suggest that changes to the South End could begin by next year and reach completion by 2022 which is the deadline for spending the grant funding.

For the next 45 days, the project will be open public review and comment as organizers prepare a written evaluation of the expected environmental impacts. Comments on this project will be accepted until Feb. 22.

A Public hearing for the project will be held on Feb 12. at the Schelfhaudt Gallery at 84 Iranistan Avenue.

Jordan.grice@hearstmediact.com

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